GIS

June 14: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

June 14, 2021

Boomers don’t think they’ll have enough – but aren’t aware of potential healthcare costs in retirement

It’s often said that if you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you will have to fall back on the “safety net” of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). You’ll be able to augment those benefits with your own Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) nest egg, the party line suggests.

But new research from HomeEquity Bank and Ipsos, reported on by The Suburban, finds that 79 per cent of Canadians 55 and older “say they can’t bank on RRSPs, the CPP and OAS for a comfortable retirement.”

In short, they don’t think those sources will provide them with as much income as they want.

The survey goes on to note that “four in 10” of the same over-55 group think they may have to “access alternative lending options for their retirement planning toolboxes,” including accessing the equity in their homes via a reverse mortgage.

Traditionally, the article notes, older folks would “downsize” the family home, selling it and buying something smaller and/or cheaper. “That’s long been considered the right thing to do,” the article tells us.

However, states HomeEquity CEO Steven Ranson in the article, “downsizing isn’t as attractive as it used to be. Given the amount of risk associated with moving and finding another suitable home, more than a quarter of older homeowners are considering accessing the equity in their homes instead of selling to help fund their retirements.”

What could be behind this concern over retirement income?

One possibility is the possibility of expensive post-retirement healthcare costs, suggests an article in Canadian HR Reporter.

The magazine cites research from Edward Jones as saying that “66 per cent (of Canadians 55+) admit to having limited or no understanding of the health and long-term care options and costs they should be saving for to live well in retirement.” The article says that the cost of a private nursing home room – on average, in Canada – is a whopping $33,349 per year.

While not all of us wind up in long-term care, one might assume that you want to make sure you still have a little money set aside for that possibility – right?

The Edward Jones survey found that 23 per cent of those surveyed feel their retirement savings will last them only about 10 years, the article notes. Thirty-one per cent don’t know how long their savings will last, the article adds.

This is a lot to take in, but here’s what the survey results seem to tell us. Boomers worry they won’t have enough money in retirement – and many aren’t aware of the huge cost of long-term care late in life. Perhaps those who are aware of long-term care costs are realizing they might run short in their 80s or beyond?

So what to do about this? First, if you can join a pension plan at work, do. Often, your employer matches your contributions, and the income you’ll receive in retirement is worth a small sacrifice in the present.

No pension plan to join at work? No problem – the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has all the retirement tools you need. For 35 years they’ve delivered retirement security by professionally investing the contributions of members, and then providing retirement income – including the possibility of a lifetime annuity – when those members get the gold watch. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


OAS still doing the job, says CCPA economist Sheila Block

May 27, 2021

Recent changes to the federal Old Age Security (OAS) program, including two one-time extra payments of $500, and a plan to increase the program’s payout by 10 per cent for those 75 and over, shouldn’t impact Ottawa’s ability to sustain the program.

So says Sheila Block, chief economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Ontario branch.

On the phone to Save with SPP from Toronto, Block notes that unlike the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), OAS isn’t funding through contributions and investment returns like a private pension plan – it’s a government program, paid for through taxation. So, she says, if planned changes go ahead there is “absolutely… the capacity for the government to afford it.”

While OAS is a fairly modest benefit, currently about $615.37 per month maximum, Block notes that it has an important feature – it is indexed, meaning that it is increased to reflect inflation every year.

“This acknowledges that a lot of retirees’ pension plans are not indexed,” she explains, or that they are living on savings which diminish as they age. An indexed benefit retains its value over time.

Many people who lack a workplace pension and/or retirement savings will receive not only the OAS, but also the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is also a government retirement income program. OAS and GIS together provide about $16,000 a year, which is helpful in fighting poverty among those with lower incomes, she explains.

“OAS was not designed to support people on its own,” she explains. “And the GIS is an anti-poverty measure that supplements OAS. As we see fewer people with defined benefit pensions or adequate retirement savings, there is an argument to increase OAS, for sure.” But, she reiterates, the OAS is more of a supplement than it is a program designed to provide full support.

As well, she notes, many getting OAS and GIS also get some or all of the CPP’s benefits.

Save with SPP noted that much is made about the OAS clawback in retirement-related media reports. But, Block notes, in reality, the threshold for clawbacks is quite high. The OAS “recovery tax” begins if an individual’s income is more than about $78,000 per year, and you become ineligible for OAS if your income exceeds about $126,000, she says.

A 2012 research paper by CCPA’s Monica Townson, which made the case then that OAS was sustainable, noted that only about six per cent of OAS payments were clawed back.

Citing data from the Canada Revenue Agency, Block notes that today, only about 4.4 per cent of OAS payments are “recovered” through the recovery tax.

We thank Sheila Block for taking the time to talk with Save with SPP.

Retirement security has traditionally depended on three pillars – government programs, like CPP and OAS, personal savings, and workplace retirement programs. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you’re effectively shouldering two of those pillars on your own.

A program that may be of interest is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. This is an open defined contribution program with a voluntary contribution rate. You can contribute up to $6,600 per year, and can transfer up to $10,000 from your registered retirement savings plan to SPP. They’ll invest the contributions for you, and when it’s time to retire, can help you convert your savings to income, including via lifetime annuity options. Check them out today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Pape’s book provides solid groundwork for a well-planned retirement

March 4, 2021

Gordon Pape has become a dean of financial writers in Canada, and his book Retirement’s Harsh New Realities provides us with a great overview of our favourite topic.

There’s even a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan!

While this book was penned last decade, the themes it looks at still ring true. “Pensions. Retirement age. Health care. Elder care. Government support. Tax breaks. Estate planning,” Pape writes. “All these issues – and more – are about to take centre stage in the public forums.”

He looks at the important question of how much we all need in retirement. Citing a Scotiabank survey, Pape notes that “56 per cent of respondents believed they would be able to get by with less than $1 million, and half of those put the figure at under $300,000” as a target for retirement savings. A further 28 per cent thought they would need “between $1 million and $2 million.” Regardless of what selection respondents made, getting that much in a savings pot is “daunting,” the survey’s authors note.

Government programs like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) help, but the benefits they provide are relatively modest. “If we want more than a subsistence-level income, we have to provide it for ourselves,” Pape advises.

He notes that the pre-pandemic savings rate a decade ago was just 4.2 per cent, with household debt at 150 per cent when compared to income. Debt levels have gone up since then. “Credit continues to grow faster than income,” he quotes former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney as saying. “Without a significant change in behaviour, the proportion of households that would be susceptible to serious financial stress from an adverse shock will continue to grow.” Prescient words, those.

So high debt and low savings (they’ve gone up in the pandemic world) are one thing, but a lack of financial literacy is another. Citing the report of a 2011 Task Force on Financial Literacy, Pape notes that just 51 per cent of Canucks have a budget, 31 per cent “struggle to pay the bills,” those hoping to save up for a house had managed to put away just five per cent of the estimated down payment, and while 70 per cent were confident about retirement, just 40 per cent “had a good idea of how much money they would need in order to maintain their desired lifestyle.”

One chapter provides a helpful “Retirement Worry Index” to let you know where your level of concern about retirement should be. Those with good pensions at work, as well as savings, a home, and little debt, have the least to worry about. Those without a workplace pension, with debt and insufficient savings, need to worry the most.

If you fall anywhere other than “least worried” on Pape’s list, the solution is to be a committed saver, and to fund your own retirement, he advises. He recommends putting away “at least 10 per cent of your income… if you’re over 40, make it a minimum of 15 per cent.” Without your own savings, “retirement is going to be as bleak as many people fear it will be.”

Pape recommends – if you can — postponing CPP payments until age 70, so you will get “42 per cent more than if you’d started drawing it at 65.” RRSP conversions should take place as late as you can, he adds. This idea has become very popular in the roaring ‘20s.

Pape also says growth should still be a priority for your RRSP and RRIF. “Just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean your RRSP savings need to stagnate,” he writes. And if you find yourself in the fortunate position of “having more income than you really need” in your early retirement needs, consider investing any extra in a Tax Free Savings Account, Pape notes.

Trying to pay off debt before you retire was once the norm, but the idea seems to have fallen out of fashion, he writes. His other advice is that you should have a good idea of what you will get from all retirement income sources, including government benefits.

In a chapter looking at RRSPs, he mentions the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP, he writes, has a “well diversified” and professionally managed investment portfolio, charges a low fee of 100 basis points or less, and offers annuities as an option once you are ready to retire.

This is a great, well-written book that provides a very solid foundation for thinking about retirement.

If you find yourself on the “yikes” end of the Retirement Worry Index, and lack a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the solution you’ve been looking for. If you don’t want to design your own savings and investment program, why not let SPP do it for you – they’ve been helping build retirement security for Canadians for more than 35 years.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Now is the time to act on boosting retirement security: C.A.R.P.’s VanGorder

January 14, 2021

For those of us who aren’t yet retired, it’s difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a retiree and imagine what issues they may be facing.

Save with SPP reached out recently to Bill VanGorder, Chief Policy Officer for C.A.R.P., a group that advocates for older adults, to find out what it’s like once you’re no longer working.

For a start, says VanGorder, all older people aren’t set for life with a good pension from their place of work. In fact, he says, “65 to 70 per cent of those reaching retirement age don’t have a (workplace) pension.”

As a result of that, most people are getting by on income from their own retirement savings, along with government benefits like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

“Politicians don’t understand what it’s like to live on a fixed income,” VanGorder explains, adding that any unexpected expenses hit those on a fixed income really hard. Right now in Nova Scotia C.A.R.P. is trying to stop plans to end a longstanding cap on property taxes – a move that would hit fixed-income folks the hardest.

In removing the cap, the province has suggested it would “look after” low-income seniors, but VanGorder points out that retirees at all levels of income are on fixed income. “It’s not just low-income earners… everyone would be hit by this,” he says.

It’s an example of how older Canadians seem to be overlooked when the government is writing up new public policies, VanGorder says. When the pandemic struck, all that older Canadians were offered was a one-time $300 payment, plus an extra $200 for the lower income group, he notes. Meanwhile younger Canadians were eligible for Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments of $2,000 per month, there were wage subsidies and rent subsidies for business, and more.

Older Canadians “feel they’ve seen every other part of the country get more economic assistance,” he explains. That’s because there’s a misconception that older Canadians “are already getting stuff… and are being looked after.”

“Their cost of living has gone up exponentially,” VanGorder says, noting that many services for seniors – getting volunteer drivers, or home support visits – have been curtailed for health reasons. These changes lead to increased costs for older Canadians, he explains.

C.A.R.P. is looking for ways to keep more money in the pockets of older people. For example, he notes, C.A.R.P. feels that there should be no minimum withdrawal rule for Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). “It’s unfair to force people to take their money out once they reach a certain age,” he explains. “A lot of people are retiring later (than age 71).” He notes that since taxes are paid on any amount withdrawn anyway, the government would always get its share eventually if there was no minimum withdrawal rule.

Another argument against the minimum withdrawal rule is the increase in longevity, VanGorder says. Ten per cent of kids born today will live to be over 100, he points out. “We’re adding a year more longevity for every decade,” he says.

C.A.R.P. is also pushing the federal government to move forward with election promises on increasing OAS payments for those over age 75, and to increase survivor benefits. While the feds did improve the CPP, the improvements will not impact today’s retirees; instead they’ll help millennials and younger generations following them.

Another area of concern to C.A.R.P. on the pension front is the rights of plan members when the company offering the pension goes under. “C.A.R.P. would like to see the plan members get super-priority creditor status,” he explains. That way, they’d be first in line to get money moved into their pensions when a Nortel or Sears-type situation occurs.

He notes that Canada is the only country with government-run healthcare that doesn’t also offer government-run pharmacare.

VanGorder agrees that there aren’t enough workplace pensions anymore. “Canada doesn’t mandate employers to offer pensions, making (reliance) on CPP and OAS more critical than it is in other countries,” he explains. The solutions would be forcing companies to offer a pension plan, or greatly increasing the benefits offered by OAS and CPP, he says.

“If we don’t start fixing it now, we are going to end up with a horrible problem when the millennials start to retire,” VanGorder predicts. Now is the time to act on expanding retirement security, he says. “They always say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he says. “But the second-best time is today.”

We thank Bill VanGorder for taking the time to speak to Save with SPP.

Don’t have a pension plan at work? Not sure how to save on your own? The experts at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help you get your savings on track. SPP offers a well-run, low-cost defined contribution plan that invests the money you contribute, and provides you with the option of a lifetime pension when work’s in the rear-view mirror. An employer pension plan option is also available. See if they’re right for you!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


JUL 27: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

July 27, 2020

Life without savings “difficult, but not impossible,” experts say

Like many things in life, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, saving for retirement – even though it is good for us – is often difficult to do.

Jobs aren’t as plentiful these days, household debt is at record highs, and there just isn’t always a lot of cash for putting aside long term.

But what kind of retirement will people who can’t or didn’t save face when they’re older?

According to a recent article in MoneySense, life without retirement savings (or a workplace plan) is “difficult, but not impossible.”

Canadians who have worked and paid into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) can, in 2020, expect a maximum annual pension of “$1,176 per month – that’s $14,112 per year,” the article notes. However, the writers warn, not all of us will have worked long enough (and made enough contributions) to get the maximum.

“The average CPP retirement pension recipient currently receives $697 per month, or $8,359 per year. That’s only about 59 per cent of the maximum,” reports MoneySense

You can start getting CPP as early as 60 or as late as 70, and the longer you wait, the more you get, the article notes.

All Canadian residents – even those who don’t qualify for CPP – can qualify for Old Age Security (OAS). If you don’t remember paying into OAS, don’t worry – you didn’t directly pay for it via contributions. Instead, the OAS is paid from general tax revenues.

“A lifetime or long-time Canadian resident may receive up to $614 per month at age 65 as of the third quarter of 2020, which is $7,362 annualized. OAS is adjusted quarterly based on inflation,” MoneySense reports. 

There’s another government program that’s beneficial for lower-income retirees, MoneySense notes. The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) “is a tax-free monthly benefit payable to OAS pensioners with low incomes. Single retirees whose incomes are below $18,600 excluding OAS may receive up to $916 per month, or $10,997 per year, as of the third quarter of 2020.”

What’s the bottom line? Someone qualifying for any or all of these programs can receive up to $23,721 per year, with “little to no tax required” per the rules of your province or territory.

The article notes that those saving $10,000 before retirement could add $25 to $33 a month to that total. Those saving $50,000 could see an additional $125 to $167 a month, and those putting away $100,000 will have $250 to $330 more per month.

The takeaway from all of this is quite simple – if you are expecting a generous retirement from CPP, OAS, and GIS, you may be in for a surprise. It’s not going to be a huge amount of income, but it’s a reasonable base.

If you’re eligible for any sort of retirement benefit from work, sign up. You won’t miss the money deducted from your pay after a while and your savings will quietly grow.

If there is no retirement program at work, set up your own using the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Start small, with contributions you can afford. Dial up your contributions every time you get a raise. With this “set it and forget it” approach, you’ll have your own retirement income to bolster that provided by government, which will give you a little more security in life after work.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Time to use realistic yardstick to measure senior poverty: John Anderson

May 7, 2020

It’s often said that Canadian seniors are doing fairly well, and that the rate of senior poverty experienced back in the pre-Canada Pension Plan days has dropped considerably.

However, says Ottawa-based union researcher John Anderson, the yardstick used to measure senior poverty levels needs to be updated to international standards. He took the time recently for a telephone interview with Save with SPP.

Currently, says Anderson, a “Market Basket Measure” (MBM) system is used to measure the cost of living, a “bizarre” system that factors in the cost of housing, clothing, food and other staples by province and region. By this old system, it is reckoned that 3.5 per cent of Canadian seniors live in poverty, although recent tweaks to the measurement process will see this number jump to 5.6 per cent.

The intricate MBM system – unique to Canada — goes into arcane details such as “what clothes you should have, how many pairs of long underwear, what kind of food you should buy, how many grams of butter. And there’s a sort of built-in stigmatization of rural living; it’s assumed that you don’t need as much money to live in a rural area as you do to live in Toronto,” Anderson says. The opposite is often true, he points out.

LIM system a better comparator

Anderson says the rest of the world uses a different measurement, one that’s much simpler, Anderson explains. The low income measure (LIM) scale defines poverty as being “an income level that is less than 50 per cent of the median income in the country,” he says. “This gives you a very clean comparison.”

By that measure, a startling 14 per cent of Canadian seniors are living in poverty, which is more than triple that figure that MBM currently quotes. “When you think about it, it means they are making less than half of what the average Canadian earns,” he explains. “They are not earning a lot.”

Why are today’s seniors not doing so well? Anderson says there has been a decline in workplace pensions over the years. “The numbers are way down,” he says. As recently as 2005, there were 4.6 million Canadians who belonged to defined benefit plans through work. By 2018, that number had dropped to 4.2 million, “at a time when we have seen a significant increase in the population, and more seniors than ever before.”

Defined benefit plans are the kind that guarantee what your monthly payment will be. About two million Canadians belong in defined contribution plans, which are more like an RRSP – money contributed over a working person’s career is invested and grown, and then drawn down as income in retirement.

“Only 25 per cent of workers have defined benefit plans now. And only 37 per cent have any kind of registered pension plan. Most have nothing,” says Anderson. This lack of pensions in the workplace, and the tendency towards part time and “gig” work that offers no benefits, is a primary reason why senior poverty is on the upswing, he contends.

“The kinds of jobs people are in today have changed,” Anderson explains. “People are working more non-standard jobs, gig jobs, contract work. Many are not even contributing to the CPP.” They tend not to be saving much on their own with these types of jobs, so it means that “when they retire, if they work that way, they don’t get much of a pension.”

That will leave many people with nothing in retirement except Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Anderson says. Neither the OAS or the GIS has “really kept up” with increases in living costs. The most anyone can get from these two programs is about $1,500 a month, for a single person, he says. “These major government pension plans have not yet taken a leap forward,” he says. “The government has improved the Canada Pension Plan, and people will benefit from that (in the future),” he explains, but these other two pillars should get a look too.

Looking forward

Anderson says by moving to a LIM-based measurement of poverty, governments could have a more realistic basis on which to make program improvements.

“We already have a form of universal basic income for seniors through the OAS and the GIS,” he says. “The monthly amounts these pay out need to be raised.”

The goal should be to raise income for seniors to the LIM target of 50 per cent of Canada’s median income which is $30,700 per person based on median after tax income for 2018.

He also thinks that the OAS should be an individual benefit, rather than being designed for couples or singles. “You get less per person with the couples’ benefit; people should get the same amount,” he explains.

He says seniors today face an expensive retirement, with possible time spent in costly long-term care homes. “Can I survive when I retire – this isn’t a question that our seniors should have to worry about,” he explains.

Anderson remains optimistic that the problem will be addressed. The Depression prompted governments of the day to begin offering OAS; experience during and after the Second World War led to the introduction of EI and the baby bonus. CPP benefits started following a serious period of senior poverty in the 1950s. “We have to do better, but maybe there’s a silver lining with the COVID-19 situation, and maybe government will take a closer look at this issue again,” he says.

We thank John Anderson for speaking with Save with SPP. John Anderson is the former Policy Director of the federal NDP and now a union researcher.

If you don’t have access to a workplace pension, consider becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s an open defined contribution plan – once you’re a member, the contributions you make are invested and grown over time, and when you retire, you have the option of turning your savings into a lifetime monthly pension. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Sep 30: Best from the blogosphere

September 30, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

After the saving comes the tricky part – turning savings into income

Writing in the Regina Leader-Post, noted financial commentator Jason Heath saves that while most people agree saving is a great idea, “how much to set aside and how to set your targets are up for debate.”

He notes that when RRSPs were first rolled out back in 1957, you were allowed to contribute up to 10 per cent of your earnings, to a maximum of $2,500, each tax year.

“The percentage limit was doubled to 20 per cent in 1972. In 1991, it was decreased to the current 18 per cent of annual earned income for the previous year, to a maximum of $26,500 for 2019. Unused RRSP room from previous years accumulates each year as well,” he explains in the article.

So, he asks, can we assume that the “right” level of savings is somewhere between the two RRSP limits of 10 and 20 per cent?

The argument for putting away 10 cents of every dollar you earn was most recently popularized by author David Chilton, Heath writes. But the World Economic Forum suggests we save “10 to 15 per cent” of earnings,” he notes.

Having a savings target – let’s say 15 per cent – is only half the battle, the article continues. When you’ve saved up all that money, how much should you be withdrawing each year as retirement income?

Heath notes that in 1994, financial planner William Bengen proposed the so-called “four per cent rule,” meaning that “four per cent was a sustainable withdrawal from a balanced investment portfolio for a 30-year retirement even if stock markets subsequently had a bad 30-year run,” Heath writes.

But a 2017 Morningstar paper suggests “three to 3.5 per cent may be more appropriate,” assuming high investment fees and today’s relatively low interest rates, both factors that weren’t the same 25 years ago.

“If you assume a 3.5-per-cent withdrawal rate, you can work backwards from retirement. For example, a 65-year-old who needs $35,000 per year of withdrawals indexed to inflation would need to save $1 million. And a 45-year-old starting from scratch to save towards that same $1-million target in 20 years would need to save about $25,000 per year indexed to inflation (assuming a return of four per cent and two-per-cent inflation),” Heath writes.

As Heath notes, the math here is somewhat head-spinning, but the concept for setting a savings target is actually fairly simple – how much income per year do you want to have? From there, do the math backwards and figure out how much to put away.

He goes to explain that there are other programs that can help. You have the newer option of saving for retirement in a tax-free savings account (TFSA), and most of us will receive money from the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and even the Guaranteed Income Supplement to top up the income we’ve created from savings.

When people roll out this sort of stuff, it’s somewhat akin to finding out that your “ideal” weight is 100 lbs less than what you are walking around with right now. A lot of times, knowing that you will need to put a lot of effort into fitness and diet is so daunting that you take yourself out for a cheeseburger and fries to dull the mental pain. But like anything else, a long-term journey can be achieved by making many small steps. It’s the same with retirement savings. Start small, gradually increase what you save, and in a few decades you’ll be happily surprised at your balance. But start – don’t suffer analysis paralysis.

And a great place to start the retirement savings journey is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. They have everything you need to set up your own plan, make regular contributions, and watch as they are professionally invested and grown. At gold-watch time, you can get them to start making regular, monthly payments – for life – to the account of your choosing! So if you’re on the sidelines and not quite ready to put your toe in the water of retirement savings, check out SPP – the water’s fine!

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

May 6, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Tax-free pension plans may offer a new pathway to retirement security: NIA

With workplace pensions becoming more and more rare, and Canadians generally not finding ways to save on their own for retirement, it may be time for fresh thinking.

Why not, asks Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing, introduce a new savings vehicle – a tax-free pension plan?

Interviewed by Yahoo! Finance Canada, Dr. MacDonald says the workplace pension plan model can work well. “Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” she states in the article.

Dr. MacDonald and her NIA colleagues are calling for something that builds on those principles but in a different, tax-free way, the article explains. The new Tax-Free Pension Plan would, like an RRSP or RPP, allow pension contributions to grow tax-free, the article says. But because it would be structured like a TFSA, no taxes would need to be deducted when the savings are pulled out as retirement income, the article reports.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future,” she explains.

And because the money within the Tax-Free Pension Plan is not taxable on withdrawal, it would not negatively impact the individual’s eligibility for benefits like OAS and GIS, the article states.

It’s an interesting concept, and Save with SPP will watch to see if it gets adopted anywhere. Save with SPP earlier did an interview with Dr. MacDonald on income security for seniors and her work with NIA continues to seek ways to ensure the golden years are indeed the best of our lives.

Cutting bad habits can build retirement security

Writing in the Greater Fool blog Doug Rowat provides an insightful breakdown of some “regular” expenses most of us could trim to free up money for retirement savings.

Citing data from Turner Investments and Statistics Canada, Rowat notes that Canadians spend a whopping $2,593 on restaurants and $3,430 on clothing every year, on average. Canadians also spend, on average, $1,497 each year on cigarettes and alcohol.

“Could you eat out less often,” asks Rowat. “Go less to expensive restaurants? Substitute lunches instead of dinners? Skip desserts and alcohol?” Saving even $500 a year on each of these categories can really add up, he notes.

“If you implemented all of these cost reductions at once across all of these categories, you’d have more than $186,000 in additional retirement savings. That’s meaningful and could result in a more fulfilling or much earlier retirement,” suggests Rowat. He’s right – shedding a bad habit or two can really fatten the wallet.

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is ready and waiting to help you start your own. The plan offers professional investing at a low cost, a great track record of returns, and best of all, a way to convert your savings to retirement income at the finish line. You can set up automatic contributions easily, a “set it and forget it” approach – and by cutting out a few bad habits, you can free up some cash today for retirement income tomorrow. It’s win-win.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Research paper suggests government-matched TFSA Saver’s Credit for mid- to low-income earners

April 11, 2019

It’s abundantly clear to most of us that Canadians aren’t able to save much money for the long-term, given the high costs of housing, historic levels of household debt, the lack of workplace retirement savings programs, and many other factors. A new research paper, The Canada Saver’s Credit, suggests a solution. 

Supported through the coalition behind the Common Good Retirement Initiative and published jointly by Common Wealth and Maytree, the paper’s authors Jonathan Weisstub, Alex Mazer and André Côté ask: Why not have the government match dollars contributed to a TFSA by qualifying moderate and low-income earners?  Save with SPP talked about the research with one of the study’s authors, André Côté.

The Canada Saver’s Credit (CSC) concept is fairly simple, he explains. Those whose income qualified them for the program would receive a dollar-for-dollar match by the federal government for every dollar they contributed to a TFSA, with the maximum match of $1,000.

“We wanted it to be as simple as possible for the consumer,” Côté explains. “Processing would be done by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The definition is that if you are eligible for things like the GIS or the GST/HST credit, you similarly would be eligible for this; CRA would determine eligibility when you file your taxes.”

The government would provide the match (up to $1,000) based on the TFSA contributions the tax filer made in that tax year, and the money would appear in your account. Côté agrees that it would be similar to how the government matches, in part, contributions made to a Registered Education Savings Plan.

In drafting the report, Côté says recent research by Richard Shillington found that the average Canadian in the 55 to 64 age range had just $3,000 in retirement savings.

“It’s a stunningly low level of preparedness,” he says. As for causes, he says it is “particularly hard to save for modest to lower incomes, there are certainly… changes in pension coverage, people tend not to have retirement plans (at work), and the private retirement savings model isn’t well oriented toward moderate and lower income people.”

In designing CSC, Côté and his co-authors considered whether or not to make the program locked-in, meaning funds can only be accessed for retirement. But in the end, the “open” nature of the TFSA was preferred, he explains.

“The question is if you encourage longer-term savings … is locked-in any better? There is a paternalistic aspect to the policy that puts constraints around peoples’ money; a non-locked in TFSA offers liquidity and flexibility,” explains Côté. The CSC, he says, will offer a way to save for the long term that also can be accessed if there’s a hole in the roof or other financial crisis along the way.

These days, he notes, there is “asset poverty” among Canadians, meaning basically that many people owe more than they own, and thus lack long-term savings for emergencies. Research shows that many Canadians are “unbanked,” a term that refers to their total lack of savings. CSC can address both problems, he explains.

The authors based their proposal in part on the US Saver’s Credit, introduced in the early 2000s. The program offered a compelling model, but “never reached maximum effectiveness,” he says, because the core savings components the US policy-makers wanted were “removed or watered down.”

The paper was also heavily informed by the work of a number of leading Canadian experts in retirement savings and income security, including John Stapleton and Richard Shillington who first advocated for a TFSA matching model a decade ago.

While the authors of course take full responsibility for their work, Côté notes that the Canada Saver’s Credit proposal benefitted immensely from the amazing group of expert reviewers from Canada and the United States.

We thank Andre Côté for taking the time to talk with SPP.

Retirement saving can be difficult and daunting. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a useful tool for your own savings efforts, you can start small and ramp up your efforts over time. At the end, SPP offers an easy way to automatically turn your savings into a lifetime income stream.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Dec 24: Best from the blogosphere – Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

December 24, 2018

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

Retirement security is a hard thing to define, particularly if you are not yet retired.

Some imagine it as an upgrade from working – you’ll have more time to do all the things you want, no more slogging away at the office. Others worry if they will have enough savings to fund the kind of life they have now – or even a more austere one.

Workplace pensions are far rarer than they were in decades past, leaving most of us to have to create our own retirement security.

The federal government, reports Wealth Professional, is opening public consultations on the growing problem of retirement security. It wants to take a harder look at pension regulations, as well as (and perhaps, the article says, in light of the Sears pension debacle), “insolvency and bankruptcy laws.”

The consultations want to “improve retirement security for Canadians” by looking at ways to ensure workplace plans are “well funded,” and corporate decisions are better aligned with “pensioner and employee interests.” The government, the article notes, talks about the improvements that have been made to government pensions, such as the OAS and GIS.

We learned recently that Canadians ought to have saved 11 times their salary by the time they are ready to retire. But in an era when workplace pensions are scarce, how can such saving be encouraged? And how do we ensure folks don’t dip into the savings before it’s time to live off them?

If RRSP savings were locked in people wouldn’t be able to withdraw money until they reach retirement age, and at that point, if funds were be converted to an income stream people would be assure of income for life.

A second idea might be to add a voluntary savings component to the CPP; this has been floated before.

Another idea might be to create investment funds for the OAS and the GIS. Right now these benefits are paid 100 per cent via taxpayer dollars. If, as is the case with the CPP, some of the dollars could be diverted to investment funds, maybe that taxpayer portion of future benefit costs could be reduced.

The real challenge is getting people to save more. One can argue truthfully that there are plenty of great savings vehicles out there that just aren’t being fully used. Could the feds offer some new tax incentives to put money away?

It will be interesting to see what the government finds out on this important topic.

If you don’t have a pension plan at work – and even if you do – it’s always wise to put away money for retirement, which will come sooner than you think. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a simple, well-run savings vehicle that is flexible and effective. You decide how much to put away, you can ramp it up or down over your career, and you get multiple options on how to receive a pension when the golden handshake comes. Be sure to check it out.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22